The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority held its Thursday, May 16, 2019 board meeting at its Los Banos headquarters next door to the old Miller & Lux building. I went to bed last night with a gentle rain and woke up this morning with the wind literally blowing sheets of rain against my house. The drive out here was dry past Madera but with big rain clouds on all sides but the southwest. Photographers, film makers and others who use light like to shoot during the golden hour just after sunrise and before sunset. The sun’s rays during this time add a golden hue. Another great natural lighting time is during storms. When the sun shines through storm clouds there can be a dramatic contrast. Heading west on State Route 152 that was the quality of light taking place. I saw what I believe to be the Dos Palos water tower. I’ve never noticed it before. Almost every time I drive this way I want to make plans to photograph the barns. A lot of beautiful old barns are still standing in the area. I forget about taking photos of the barns after I get back on 99 heading home.
Chairman Cannon Michael called the meeting at 9:30 am. We saluted the flag and introduced ourselves to one another. For the first time I remember there was a half dozen or more empty seats.
Under action items SLDMWA Executive Director Federico Barajas told the board there needs to be approval of a resolution regarding new disclosure procedures in the finance area. The board agreed and did so. The Water Resources Committee recommended the board spend $12,500 to fund and operate the Dissolved Oxygen Aeration Facility in the Stockton Deep Water Shipping Channel the Army Corps of Engineers built long ago. That patch of water is so low in oxygen it kills migrating fish and needs to have bubbles injected. The board agreed.
Barajas and consultant Martin Rauch (Rauch by telephone) presented the board the proposed final draft of mission and vision statements and core values. Rauch said the mission statement is mostly the same but for the description of the Delta Mendota Canal changes slightly but that caused no heartburn. There was also a vision statement added that was concise and not to be redundant – to the point. The core values according to Rauch were written pretty much by Assistant Executive Director Frances Mizuno. It was good, it really was. The board accepted all the language. That’s a blessing because when you get a bunch of folks together trying to rewrite statements it’s a bummer; as we’ll see later in the meeting. Rauch said the acid test is the answer to the question; would you follow these statements even without a payoff? Good point. There was one person who spoke out against the word courage but several others had the courage to speak up for the word courage. The board approved.
SB 1 is a troubling piece of legislation. It would reform state regulations to be consistent with federal regulations on the last day of Obama’s term, if the’ve been changed during the Trump Administration, regardless of the scientific merit of the changes. In addition to blatant, partisan political theater the legislation could have significant negative impacts to the implementation of the revised Coordinated Operating Agreement between the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, the reconsultation on the biological opinions for endangered fish species in the Delta, and the voluntary agreements being negotiated between the Newsom Administration, public water agencies and environmental groups. Lobbyist Dennis Cardoza spoke by telephone saying he sees the best chance to amend this bill will be in the State Assembly. He’s spoken with a cosponsor who didn’t realize the amount of damage this bill can cause. Something crazier than usual is taking place in Sacramento. The State Attorney General Xavier Becerra is seeking legal means to prevent Westlands Water District from working with the US Bureau of Reclamation on raising Shasta Dam. Unprecedented partisanship. Anyway, the board voted to withhold support for SB 1 unless it is amended to address the negative water supply impacts..
SLDMWA Water Policy Director J. Scott Petersen next presented the board with HR 2473, the federal bill by Rep. Josh Harder (D-Modesto). This bill puts some money up for improving existing and building new water infrastructure. The board was asked to support the legislation but Garth Hall of Santa Clara Valley WD was hesitant to go forward without the Pacheco Reservoir project’s feasibility study being explicitly named in Section 5 of the bill. SCVWD Director Richard Santos strongly disagreed with supporting the bill unless the Pacheco Reservoir is mentioned in the bill. Director Joe Tonascia of San Benito County Water District was also objecting to supporting the bill without amending it to include specifically Pacheco. The language of the bill is unclear as to whether it expedites the feasibility study of both expanding Pacheco Reservoir and expanding San Luis Reservoir and SLDMWA staff is working to clarify that, given the needs for additional surface storage south of the Delta. Anthea Hansen, GM Del Puerto WD said the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir project is included and there was a lot of work done with Harder and she wants to see this bill supported. Barajas said SLDMWA has worked to include the Pacheco project, and has communicated to the Bureau and Congressman Harder the benefits of the Pacheco project. He advocated supporting this bill and directing staff to work to clarify the language to ensure that the project is included. Hansen asked if the objecting entities has contacted Harder about this matter and she said if they had she’d support their stance more. Tonascia said this was the first he’s heard of it. The bill itself wasn’t introduced until May 2nd. Petersen said the bill’s language does include the San Luis low-point improvement project feasibility study, which advances the Pacheco project as the preferred alternative. Pacheco Reservoir currently holds less than 10,000 a/f and for well more than a year SCVWD and other project supporters have been working to expand it to 140,000 a/f. This would be water coming through San Luis Reservoir and would help free up water storage for the Valley. Go to any WaterWrights.net report prior to this month for the past year and you’ll see an advertisement linking to the Pacheco Project for more information. Byron Bethany ID GM Rick Gilmore said SCVWD has lobbyists in Washington DC and this might be something that staff should look into. Hall said SCVWD wants the Del Puerto project to go through and doesn’t want to hold things up. He asked Petersen if here is any idea of what it would take to get the Pacheco project listed. Petersen said there are two or three ways to do this and it may be included in a package that may be voted on until September. There are ways to also amend it in conference with the Senate. Cardoza suggested wording the motion to include SLDMWA’s support of including Pacheco. Nina Hawk, COO of SCVWD said she’d like to see all the member agencies support additional surface storage and she wasn’t hearing that so far. The issue was how to word the motion. The first motion was support for the bill and it failed with four no votes. The second motion was to include in the letter of support – support for Pacheco. Cardoza suggested engaging properly could almost certainly yield the desired result. He said he can’t remember one time when the Santa Clara Valley Congressional delegation went after something like this and didn’t get it. Hall and Jose Gutierrez of Westlands WD both asked what SLDMWA’s position on this bill will be if Pacheco isn’t included. Michael said we have to move incrementally to move things forward. Someone, I didn’t catch who, said it was a good thing courage was included in the values statement earlier today. Hall suggested Petersen work with the Congressman to clarify whether the Pacheco project is included in the bill’s language and come back next month. Hansen said that would negatively impact the Del Puerto project. Cardoza said Harder can’t amend the legislation until certain procedural steps take place and the legislation is noticed for a markup.. The second motion was to send a letter of support for the legislation that includes support for Pacheco, in so many words. This second motion passed unanimously.Report items were next and they happened to start with an update on state and federal affairs. Petersen said David Bernhardt was approved as Secretary of Interior. Legislation to fund the USBR for another year is moving forward, as is a bill to fund the US Fish & Wildlife Service. There is a hearing regarding striped bass. The nasty little bastardos are eating nine out of 10 juvenile salmon leaving the Delta by some estimates. Something should be done – but what? Maybe increase the limit?
Mizuno presented the board with the Predator Removal Program at the Tracy Fish Collection Facility. She introduced Rene, I forgot his last name (Reyes) but he was with us at the last Tracy tour I was on. Anyhow, he said about seven million fish are saved. Surprisingly they can save between 70-100 percent of the salmon from the pumps when the pumps are going full bore. They lose 50 percent of the salmon when there is only one pump running. There are stripped bass in the salvage area. They add dry ice and that doesn’t kill them but it knocks all the fish out and they flow into the salvage tanks. The bass are transported downstream and released. So are the salmon, apparently not in the same place. Up flow from the salvage area is a forebay type of space separated from the San Joaquin River by a trash barrier. When the pumps are only running one unit they dump hundreds of pounds of dry ice in this area and clear out the biggest predators. They’re finding out this can raise that 70-100 percent success to the 100 percent rate more consistently. That didn’t take as long as the previous motion.
Petersen gave an update on the biological opinion reconsultation project and what’s going on with the voluntary agreements with the State Board. The next event will be project descriptions in June. He said the California Water Fix has ended and there will be a brand new project. William Bourdeau, Westlands asked how much will have to be repaid or what will happen to the money. I didn’t hear an answer that didn’t include research to see what’s happening. Barajas said there will be a tour of Shasta Dam coming up. He said raising the B.F. Sisk Dam on San Luis Reservoir has to undergo an internal USBR review and a letter to trigger that process is moving through channels.
Tom Boardman used to be the SLDMWA water guru and he is now the Westlands WD water guru but still gets to speak at this meeting. He said Vernalis is running at 10,000 cfs and that limits the combined pumping of both the state’s Banks Plant and the federal Jones Plan to 2,500 cfs. He expects a surge from Millerton on the San Joaquin River and the tributaries to trigger higher flows allowing more pumping. This story today is undecided about how much runoff will reach Vernalis. There has also been a dip in demands reducing draw from SLR. Shasta is expected to fill by the end of the month. Folsom is doing well as well although it’s been it hard by rain need to release. He expects Jones to pump full through the summer. So why such low allocations? Boardman said he thinks the Bureau is looking at the highest demands, exceeding any historical record. He said it’s unrealistic demand estimates but the Bureau is sticking with it. He could see an easy 80 percent ag, 100 percent urban allocations for south of Delta CVP contractors. He also said the X2 line will be at Chips Island later this year and it will take 12,000 cfs to keep the salt out of the Delta. That’s three times the normal and could be one of the allocation problems.
Barajas gave his report saying SLDMWA is talking with the Bureau about pursuing a funding strategy for rehabilitating the pumps at Jones Plant. There are six pumps and they need rewinding and such. Barajas said Bourdeau is now the official Westlands board member at SLDMWA. Barajas also said staff is developing an implementation plan for the seven goals and objectives approved as part of the strategic plan and the mission, vision statements and core values will tie in nicely with this effort. There will be a tour of the Pacheco Reservoir in July planned. Good deal.
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SAN LUIS & DELTA-MENDOTA WATER AUTHORITY was established in January of 1992 and consists of approximately 2,100,000 acres of 28 CVP contractors within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The governing body of the Authority consists of a 19-member Board of Directors classified into five divisions with directors selected from within each division. The main conveyance is the Delta-Mendota Canal that delivers approximately 3,000,000-acre feet of water within the Authority service area. Of this amount, 2,500,000-acre feet are delivered to highly productive agricultural lands, 150,000 to 200,000-acre feet for municipal and industrial uses, and between 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet are delivered to wildlife refuges for habitat enhancement and restoration. Chairman: Cannon Michael, Executive Director: Federico Barajas, Attorney: Becca Akroyd.